Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hurricane Katrina's positive influence

It may seems odd to suggest this, but there were several positive aspects to the horrible tragedy known as Hurricane Katrina that have made the old, bedraggled and set-in-its-ways city become progressive and forward thinking. The politics still has its own black-white tilt and the City Council, Mayor's office, police department and District Attorney's office still manage to hurl invectives and accuse each other of skullduggeries. Yet, with all of the disgust in dealing with FEMA, the several years of living in trailers, the disreputable contractors who stole millions of victims' nesteggs and the general feeling of malaise that permeated the city in the immediate years following the flooding, there has emerged in several quarters a new spirit of volunteerism and community activism that was largely absent before the storm. To be sure, there is a lot more to be done today than four years ago. And there is no way we can ever forget the 1500 or more lives snuffed out in the wake of the worst natural and man-made disaster to strike our nation. The city has become the focus for young idealists, who are flocking here intent on making a difference and contributing in myriad ways to rebuilding this historic and unique metropolis. There is the Musician's Village, which offers affordable housing to artists who would not normally be able to do so, and the Brad Pitt-inspired Make It Right Foundation that has built 150 "green" structures in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward. Faith groups through various initiatives have rehabbed, rebuilt and restored homes to grateful families. In the case of groups like the Isaiah Funds millions of dollars have been given out in grants and millions of others in long-term affordable loans have and are being made available to needy groups such as those rebuilding the Central City area. The hiring of iconocastic Rabbi Uri Topolosky as Congregation Beth Israel's spiritual leader has turned out to be one of the most prophetic events in the Modern Orthodox synagogue's history. Through his vision and with the support of the synagogue's board of trustees there will be an announcement today of the launching of a new capital campaign and a building drive that will erect a new edifice on vacant land adjacent to and on that previously owned by Gates of Prayer Synagogue, the Reform synagogue located in Metairie. Over three years ago, Rabbi Robert Loewy offered his synagogue's little-used back chapel as a place of worship for the displaced synagogue formerly located in the flood-ravaged Lakeview area. This unusual partnership between Reform and Orthodox Jewry has blossomed in a way that is quite unusual and typical of the ways that set New Orleans apart from other municipalities. It is the people who have reached out to one another, regardless of differences in philosophies and practices. Hurricane Katrina showed us all what is truly important: life, love and each other. If that is the storm's most lingering aspects, then we all will have been truly blessed. It comes at a great cost, but in the end we may still see that the period of anguish we all went through was that of a birthing pain in which a better, stronger city cried out to be reborn.

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